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  1. #101

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    "Having written all this, I’ll close with a contradictory quote from Dizzy Gillespie (about a trumpeter he knew in Cuba). “He can’t read a note but can play his ass off”. I CAN read (although not that well) but can’t play my ass off. But I’m optimistic." Guitarstudent


    Hi, G,
    I think that's possible in a Rock, Dixie,or a Blues idiom but the complexity of Jazz renders Dizzy's statement rather Romantic. I think one would have to be a musical savant for that to happen. Where are they today? Most of the top players are coming out of Berklee or other music programs across the country.
    Good playing . . . Marinero

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  3. #102

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    Quote Originally Posted by Marinero View Post
    "Having written all this, I’ll close with a contradictory quote from Dizzy Gillespie (about a trumpeter he knew in Cuba). “He can’t read a note but can play his ass off”. I CAN read (although not that well) but can’t play my ass off. But I’m optimistic." Guitarstudent


    Hi, G,
    I think that's possible in a Rock, Dixie,or a Blues idiom but the complexity of Jazz renders Dizzy's statement rather Romantic. I think one would have to be a musical savant for that to happen. Where are they today? Most of the top players are coming out of Berklee or other music programs across the country.
    Good playing . . . Marinero
    Well.... I don’t think one has to be a musical savant to learn to play bop by ear. Because it’s basically easier to do it that way, and I’m pretty certain that’s how anyone would tell you to learn it at college or otherwise.

    Also most of the actually good bop players I know are primarily ear based. I’d advise anyone wanting to learn bop to shelve their books and focus on learning heads from the record.

    The changes to those tunes are pretty basic, based on Dixie/swing tunes.

    As for more modern stuff... we have a lot of diversity. Again, I feel actually listening teaches a lot more than any theory classes.

    I think saying you have to be a musical savant to learn jazz by ear is an excuse. The ear is the one thing we can’t do without, and it can be worked on and improved. Nothing mysterious there. Everything else is negotiable - reading, theory, and so on.

    But colleges (rightly) are interested in turning out well rounded musicians. Reading is part of that. Why wouldn’t you learn to read?

    What you end up using on the gig depends on what gigs you end up doing. I don’t do many reading gigs, mostly I play by memory. But I know people who do more reading stuff.

    Originals projects require reading.

  4. #103

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    Well.... I don’t think one has to be a musical savant to learn to play bop by ear. Because it’s basically easier to do it that way, and I’m pretty certain that’s how anyone would tell you to learn it at college or otherwise.

    Also most of the actually good bop players I know are primarily ear based. I’d advise anyone wanting to learn bop to shelve their books and focus on learning heads from the record.

    The changes to those tunes are pretty basic, based on Dixie/swing tunes.

    As for more modern stuff... we have a lot of diversity. Again, I feel actually listening teaches a lot more than any theory classes.

    I think saying you have to be a musical savant to learn jazz by ear is an excuse. The ear is the one thing we can’t do without, and it can be worked on and improved. Nothing mysterious there. Everything else is negotiable - reading, theory, and so on.

    But colleges (rightly) are interested in turning out well rounded musicians. Reading is part of that. Why wouldn’t you learn to read?

    What you end up using on the gig depends on what gigs you end up doing. I don’t do many reading gigs, mostly I play by memory. But I know people who do more reading stuff.

    Originals projects require reading.
    A point I don't see discussed much is how well a person can remember music. My impression is that there is a wide range of ability in that regard. It correlates with having big ears, but it's not the same thing. Warren Nunes told me once that if he heard a song on a jukebox in a bar, once, he'd know that song for the rest of his life. I know other players who can memorize an entire show after reading through it once.

    This week I saw a well known player at a jam. I'm pretty sure he didn't know some of the tunes. It seemed like he was faking his way through the first chorus but, after that, he clearly knew the tune. Looked to me like it took him one hearing. I don't know if he can read. I do know that he tours in a duo and the other guy can read but just a little.

    So, if you've got big ears and a great memory, you can compensate for lack of reading. Not that reading would hurt anything.

    But, for those of us who aren't so blessed, reading allows us to function in a larger number of situations. And, even the guy with the ears, memory and talent, isn't going to get a gig where you have to play a written part.

  5. #104

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    Quote Originally Posted by rpjazzguitar View Post
    A point I don't see discussed much is how well a person can remember music. My impression is that there is a wide range of ability in that regard.

    It correlates with having big ears, but it's not the same thing. Warren Nunes told me once that if he heard a song on a jukebox in a bar, once, he'd know that song for the rest of his life. I know other players who can memorize an entire show after reading through it once.

    This week I saw a well known player at a jam. I'm pretty sure he didn't know some of the tunes. It seemed like he was faking his way through the first chorus but, after that, he clearly knew the tune. Looked to me like it took him one hearing. I don't know if he can read. I do know that he tours in a duo and the other guy can read but just a little.

    So, if you've got big ears and a great memory, you can compensate for lack of reading. Not that reading would hurt anything.

    But, for those of us who aren't so blessed, reading allows us to function in a larger number of situations. And, even the guy with the ears, memory and talent, isn't going to get a gig where you have to play a written part.
    I would definitely agree. I’m crap at this. Jimi Hendrix, Mozart and yer man Nunes, clearly gifted in this area.

    It is embarrassing the amount of time it takes me to properly learn a melody. Just forever.

    I’ve got better at it though.

    It’s funny though, I used to memorise entire opera roles.....

    Here’s a thing though - we all perhaps have better recollection than we think. We have to learn to trust it more, often.

    And for those not blessed with savant recall - well there’s this science of memory that’s kind of forgotten. Mike Outram, top UK jazz guitarist is actually a world ranked memory expert. This doesn’t mean he has a naturally good memory- far from it. It means he has mastered a number of techniques for developing perfect recall.

    The techniques for doing this are discussed at length in the book Moonwalking with Einstein which Mike recommended, which is a really fascinating little book.

    I first came across it in the amazing Hillary Mantel historical novel Wolf Hall, which imagines the way Henry VII’s right hand man and the book’s protagonist Thomas Cromwell managed his ‘memory palace.’ In the present era we have all neglected this area of our minds, out sourcing first to cheap and plentiful books (or manuscript paper) and then to machines. But it used to be a cornerstone of education and if you go back far enough - to the oral traditions of the Veddas, the Iliad etc - the only way to recall information beyond one’s own lifespan.

    Anyhoo. In music, as in any type of memory, having an anchor is invaluable. This would tend to be extra-musical This could be imagined notation. In my case it is often words. Perhaps for others it might be colours or who knows.

    And memorising melodies must presumably be easier than memorising strings of random digits. And we all used to do that before cell phones.

    A little OT. Really good readers never have much of an incentive to develop this skill...

  6. #105

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    "I think saying you have to be a musical savant to learn jazz by ear is an excuse. The ear is the one thing we can’t do without, and it can be worked on and improved. Nothing mysterious there. Everything else is negotiable - reading, theory, and so on. " Christianm77


    Hi, C,
    You've made some interesting statements in this post. The one I disagree with is the first sentence above. The rest . . . we're both on the same page. Let me explain. There are some human beings who are born with a gift. We see it in sports, business and the Arts. These are human beings that I call "aliens" (in a joking sense) since they have abilities which are so far beyond even talented people that you wonder where these talents originated since they move the ball so quickly down the field and ,seemingly, with so little effort. In Science, there was Galileo, Einstein and Oppenheimer . In business, there were the robber Barons of the early 20th Century--Vanderbilt, Morgan, Rockefeller, Ford. In the visual Arts there was Michelangelo, DaVinci, Rembrandt. And, in Classical Music we've had Bach, Beethoven, Wagner. And, finally, in Jazz, there was Parker, Coltrane,Dizzy, Monk and Miles to name a few. So, when we speak of learning jazz by ear, playing poorly is accessible to all, but playing with conviction and artistry requires a higher standard. I think in a lifetime of performing, an average/above-average "ear" musician can learn the "book" and probably, with native talent, play confidently with other musicians . . . that is if they don't change the key from the original music or play from a book for a gig. But what's the point? Music is a skill and an art. And, for everyone but a genius, you need to learn your craft before you can produce "art." Would you rather have a house built by union tradesmen who have gone to school, worked as an apprentices in the field for years to other master tradesmen and have the ability to build a structurally correct product or would you rather have "Youtube" tradesmen who have honed their skills on 15 minute tutorials? Why should it be any different for Music. The days of Dixieland "ear" musicians are gone and to play the sophisticated music we call Jazz today is no small feat . . unless, of course, you're a "savant" like Joey Alexander. How many of us can make that claim? So, great discussion in a matter of real import to any serious musician. In short, a musician that doesn't read music and understand basic theory, harmony, counterpoint, etc. starts at the bottom of the ladder and in my experience, probably never leaves. Thanks for the input, C! Good playing . . . Marinero

    Here's Joey with "My Favorite Things." Enjoy!
    https://youtu.be/3pzIlq7jZzw

  7. #106

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    This is a false dichotomy imo

  8. #107

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    This is a false dichotomy imo
    Hi, C,
    Would your comment be the same if we were talking about learning advanced Math or Physics . . . or even the use of language when writing a novel? Can you explain how Music is different than any other skill, talent or Art? Good playing . . . Marinero

  9. #108

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    Quote Originally Posted by Marinero View Post
    Hi, C,
    Would your comment be the same if we were talking about learning advanced Math or Physics . . . or even the use of language when writing a novel? Can you explain how Music is different than any other skill, talent or Art? Good playing . . . Marinero
    We could get into that and I actually be very interested although somewhat lacking in time to discuss this rather large area (I feel reasonably well qualified to talk about this both from an academic and personal perspective.)

    I feel you are trying to widen the scope of the discussion and I want to know first that you understand what I mean by false dichotomy. Not to be a dick, just feel you are setting up a opposition which isn’t in my experience reflected by reality.

  10. #109

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    Quote Originally Posted by Marinero View Post
    Hi, C,
    Would your comment be the same if we were talking about learning advanced Math or Physics . . . or even the use of language when writing a novel? Can you explain how Music is different than any other skill, talent or Art? Good playing . . . Marinero
    Ok so I’ll try and give this a slightly more complete answer.

    I have a degree in physical sciences (astronomy) and my wife is a mathematician. We are both also musicians. I am studying music education at the moment.

    The big difference I would identify is that music theory itself is quite straightforward. It’s not especially hard to understand what a Lydian dominant scale is intellectually. At least not compared to number theory or something.

    The crucial bit is the praxis of that scale. So being able to master that on your instrument, the sound of it and so on - that takes graft. It is true that there is also a lot of basic hard work in any field, but I think the biggest thing I’ve had to learn in music is to work my butt off in a way that’s quite different from STEM subjects, where you might have to do a lot of boring stuff, but you aren’t necessarily acquiring practical kinaesthetic skills.

    So I find comparisons between music and science etc a little unhelpful.

    So, music is based on audition, the aural imagination. It doesn’t matter if you know theory if you can hear it. Theory is just a label for certain sounds. In this sense it really is no different from the other arts except that aural imagination is perhaps less familiar to us than, say visual imagination.

    In practice of course, most people know the theory now, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. In the same way that there’s nothing wrong with learning notation. Far from it.

    Hence a false dichotomy. One does not exclude the other. Everyone who can play well plays by ear whether or not they know scales or can read fly shit.

    But there are unusual musicians like Birelli who just work by ear, not a lick of theory. Birelli is obviously a savant-like musician, but actually I say his lack of formal music educational background is actually more unusual than his talent. I know some musicians who have incredible aural skills and know all the theory having been to music college etc. If they didn’t know theory, they would still be awesome musicians. It’s just that musicians who are that talented most often end up in the education system.

    But audiating, the musical imagination, the inner ear, is the one non negotiable aspect of playing music, because everything you do has to be heard. Otherwise it will be shit, basically, not music.

    To set up a dichotomy between the master/savants and the rest of us - again it’s false. It’s not binary. It’s a spectrum, a continuum in terms of raw talent and everything else.

    And you work on this stuff. All the pro players I work with value ear work and so on very highly. Not all are great readers or theoreticians.

    Anyway a good book to read is Edwin Gordon’s Learning Sequences in Music. He’s the audiation guy. You might also want to check out the Tristano approach if you haven’t.

    (There’s also quite a bit of Edwin Gordon stuff on YouTube.)

  11. #110

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    (Another thing is that it is perfectly possible to study music theory without being a performing musician. You can do academic music degrees. That’s more like a science.)

  12. #111

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    "The crucial bit is the praxis of that scale. So being able to master that on your instrument, the sound of it and so on - that takes graft. It is true that there is also a lot of basic hard work in any field, but I think the biggest thing I’ve had to learn in music is to work my butt off in a way that’s quite different from STEM subjects, where you might have to do a lot of boring stuff, but you aren’t necessarily acquiring practical kinaesthetic skills.

    So I find comparisons between music and science etc a little unhelpful. " Christian

    Hi, C,
    Thanks for your reply. However, the above statement is a classic "red herring" in philosophical discourse since the necessity of kinasethetic skills are those unlike writing fiction, poetry(unless you use a typewriter for a good workout) but perhaps similar to the visual arts in coordinated motor skills, yet, in essence, have no objective bearing on the crux of the discussion--"Why Learn Standard Notation." Kinesthesia is simply part of the meat and potatoes in the soup. And, the example of Birelli Lagrene is ,indeed, the exception since hardwired in his DNA is a savant-like quality that belies normal patterns of human mental/physiological development. I think it's o.k to disagree since a discussion of right and wrong might wander into the depths of sophistry . . . an area I'm certain neither you nor I would like to descend. So, for me, the study of Math and Astronomy(your specialties) would not be possible without the necessary practical and theoretical building blocks to the next level . . . so, for me, it is also the case with Music, unless, of course, you're a savant. Thanks for your reply. Good playing . . . Marinero

  13. #112

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    Quote Originally Posted by Marinero View Post
    "The crucial bit is the praxis of that scale. So being able to master that on your instrument, the sound of it and so on - that takes graft. It is true that there is also a lot of basic hard work in any field, but I think the biggest thing I’ve had to learn in music is to work my butt off in a way that’s quite different from STEM subjects, where you might have to do a lot of boring stuff, but you aren’t necessarily acquiring practical kinaesthetic skills.

    So I find comparisons between music and science etc a little unhelpful. " Christian

    Hi, C,
    Thanks for your reply. However, the above statement is a classic "red herring" in philosophical discourse since the necessity of kinasethetic skills are those unlike writing fiction, poetry(unless you use a typewriter for a good workout) but perhaps similar to the visual arts in coordinated motor skills, yet, in essence, have no objective bearing on the crux of the discussion--"Why Learn Standard Notation." Kinesthesia is simply part of the meat and potatoes in the soup.

    And, the example of Birelli Lagrene is ,indeed, the exception since hardwired in his DNA is a savant-like quality that belies normal patterns of human mental/physiological development. I think it's o.k to disagree since a discussion of right and wrong might wander into the depths of sophistry . . . an area I'm certain neither you nor I would like to descend.

    So, for me, the study of Math and Astronomy(your specialties) would not be possible without the necessary practical and theoretical building blocks to the next level . . . so, for me, it is also the case with Music, unless, of course, you're a savant. Thanks for your reply. Good playing . . . Marinero
    It’s really very simple. A musician needs to develop one’s ear. Thats the most important thing. Other skills are useful, but no great or even good player lacks an ear.

    It occurs to me that you may have confused my argument for the stupid argument sometimes made by silly people that playing by ear and knowing theory is mutually exclusive.

    But let me say this - without working on audiation and the musical ear, no player of jazz or any other style will ever be able to make music. In intelligent teaching of theory for improvisers the ear is always engaged. To me theory is always about grouping and understanding sounds anyway. Hence the term praxis, which I prefer to theory (although it does sound a bit pretentious lol.)

    It’s possible you don’t disagree with this and we are taking past each other.

  14. #113

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    Reading notation gives a good example relevant to this thread. One can start reading rhythms by counting but after a while you have to acquire the ability to audiate rhythms to progress.

    So far from the notation side of it being opposed to the ear side of it they are actually two sides of the same coin.

    It is true some people are naturally gifted audiators. Interestingly some of them can’t play instruments very well. OTOH we can all improve our skills in the area and I would suggest this is an area of priority for most of my students, and presumably by extension most jazz learners.

    Most of them need work learning to hear simple jazz phrases. But they improve quickly when they force themselves to do it. They might not become a world class audiator but they can make an honest musical connection to their playing. Theory is not generally something they need to know more of, but audiating theoretical ideas can take a while.

    Anyway the arguments I’ve made here are made much better and in greater depth in the Edwin Gordon book, which I would encourage anyone interested in music education whether of themselves or others to read.

    (BTW Gordon does point out that early childhood is critical in developing these skills to the highest level which is probably where these natural talents get so good.)

  15. #114

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    Reading notation gives a good example relevant to this thread. One can start reading rhythms by counting but after a while you have to acquire the ability to audiate rhythms to progress.

    So far from the notation side of it being opposed to the ear side of it they are actually two sides of the same coin.

    It is true some people are naturally gifted audiators. Interestingly some of them can’t play instruments very well. OTOH we can all improve our skills in the area and I would suggest this is an area of priority for most of my students, and presumably by extension most jazz learners.

    Anyway the arguments I’ve made here are made much better and in greater depth in the Edwin Gordon book, which I would encourage anyone interested in music education whether of themselves or others to read.


    Apologies, I know the Edwin Gordon Book is referenced in a previous post but cannot find it. What is the name of the book? Great conversation. I don't understand a lot of it but you have both peaked my interest. Thanks

  16. #115

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    Quote Originally Posted by vashondan View Post
    Apologies, I know the Edwin Gordon Book is referenced in a previous post but cannot find it. What is the name of the book? Great conversation. I don't understand a lot of it but you have both peaked my interest. Thanks
    [/B]
    Learning Sequences in music - it’s on Google iirc

  17. #116

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    This is a good intro to his ideas


  18. #117

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    Learning Sequences in music - it’s on Google iirc
    Thank you!

  19. #118

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    It’s really very simple. A musician needs to develop one’s ear. Thats the most important thing. Other skills are useful, but no great or even good player lacks an ear.

    It occurs to me that you may have confused my argument for the stupid argument sometimes made by silly people that playing by ear and knowing theory is mutually exclusive.

    But let me say this - without working on audiation and the musical ear, no player of jazz or any other style will ever be able to make music. In intelligent teaching of theory for improvisers the ear is always engaged. To me theory is always about grouping and understanding sounds anyway. Hence the term praxis, which I prefer to theory (although it does sound a bit pretentious lol.)

    It’s possible you don’t disagree with this and we are taking past each other.
    Hi, C,
    I agree. Good playing . . . Marinero

  20. #119
    Below is a link to Erroll Garner stretching out on his masterpiece, Misty.

    I submit it because of the lively exchange of comments regarding Mr. Garner’s ability ( or lack, thereof) to read music (related to this thread).

    Some say say he was self-taught and never learned. Others say he learned later.


  21. #120

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    Reading music has nothing directly to do with one’s ability to play jazz.

    OTOH it can get you on the bandstand. And you need to be on the bandstand to learn how to play jazz.

    Or you could develop an absolutely amazing ear and only need to hear something once to play it perfectly.

    Most people find it easier to learn to read.

  22. #121
    About 55 years ago, I took clarinet lessons. My teacher furtively taught me the circle of fifths and all 12 key signatures.
    I remember no drills or charts or “Every Good Boy Does Fine” devices. I just mysteriously learned it. And I, of course, learned to read music.

    That was my musical “DNA” when I (much) later took up guitar. Of course, I learned the chord diagrams (and how F killed my index finger) but somehow I always also wanted Standard Notation for guitar. I felt that was how you “married” music study - through reading (like a teacher on a piece of paper).

    But my experience seems to be different. Many of those who studied piano or trumpet or flute as kids don’t (in my zealous way) gravitate towards reading guitar or bass guitar music.
    I really don’t get it. I don’t get why the “beauty of notation” endured in me - when I moved from clarinet to guitar. Nor why it withered for so many others.

    I know a sax player who play strictly by ear. He says: “I can read but very slowly”. He has no inclination to rectify that.

    One way to express this (for me) is:
    - Reading propels me. It’s like people who read novels. They love it / need it. You can get a lot more than a “tale” out of a novel.

    Twenty five years ago I found it hard to find “note” guitar music, apart from classical, for guitar. There were chord books but precious-few note books. There was piano music, it was agony to map piano notation to guitar.

    I think this is why I came to Jazz because of the reading / theory aspect. No other genres seemed to do that. I love theory. It engages me.

    It’s like there are 2 “guitars”: “Chord guitar”: You can learn 10 cowboy chord songs in a weekend and impress a date or cousin. And, “Note guitar”: It might take weeks to learn, say “Classical Gas” or a Chet piece but there’s so much more MUSIC there then, say, “Wild Horses” which is hummable and has catchy vocals.

    Every evolved cultural area has a language, a “literature”.

    You can definitely go a long, long way with chords and tab but Standard Notation is so ancient and rich: Dynamics, key signatures, clefs, Latin words (Andanta and Rubato) - WOW! - but it was fed to me very young. (I like hanging out with Bach through a score)

    Yet I can understand why guitarists practically laugh when I encourage it.

  23. #122

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    Quote Originally Posted by GuitarStudent View Post
    About 55 years ago, I took clarinet lessons...
    That was my musical “DNA” when I (much) later took up guitar.
    Similar here; I learned clarinet first and played every school day with the school band (including summer band) from age eight to fifteen. When I was eleven I began six years of classical piano lessons.

    Nobody ever mentioned audiation but that was definitely a major component of my musical "DNA"; it was understood that reading music meant using one's learned technique on the instrument to make manifest the musical intent of the written score, and listening was the critical and necessary means of musical quality control for pitch, tone, rhythm, mood, phrasing, dynamics, etc. expressed in the score by marks, signs, symbols, Italian words, et al.

    At thirteen I discovered that I grasped and could play the guitar almost instantly the first time I held one. The greater part of that I believe was from my prior musical experience, especially audiation; so I decided to teach myself to play the guitar exclusively by ear. That approach worked well for me and to this day I continue to play, compose, and perform exclusively by ear.
    "Bent my ear to hear the tune and closed my eyes to see."

  24. #123

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    Late in the thread for this, but I want to ask, what exactly do we mean by "reading"?

    It's one thing to be able to puzzle something out at a leisurely pace.

    It's quite another to play in a big band and have to read a chart you've never seen before, as the band plays it the first time -- with key changes, clef changes, ledger lines, long strings of syncopated hits, chords written piano-style on stems, lots of single note lines where you're acting like a horn, and troublesome page turns. Most big band charts have simple roadmaps, but there are exceptions.

    My experience is that all the other musicians in the band can usually do that. Most guitarists can't. Or, stated another way, the standards are sometimes lowered for guitar players because they can't easily get a guitarist who can read like the other players.

  25. #124
    Quote Originally Posted by rpjazzguitar View Post
    Late in the thread for this, but I want to ask, what exactly do we mean by "reading"?
    What I meant in my last post was reading Standard Notation, at any speed.

  26. #125
    I am not a professional musician. But I love (“love” is a deliberately chosen word here) reading music. I have a “practice partner” friend I meet with about once a month.

    We sit down with acoustic guitars and sight-read guitar duets. Not for performance but for the exhilaration of learning. And I (and he) find it really fun.

    The challenges of choosing positions, heightened listening, reading rhythms, etc. is exhilirating. There are loads of ways to enjoy the miracle of music. Reading duets with a friend is one way. It is all about the reward of mastering a written piece - usually a piece we’ve never heard.

    I’m not about telling people they should read music but I, and my friend, find this very rewarding. But I see this as a reward of reading music.

    I’m not saying anything new or novel here. Classical guitarists and others know this. And there are great duets free, everywhere. I’m just adding another idea to this conversation.

  27. #126

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    Quote Originally Posted by GuitarStudent View Post
    I am not a professional musician. But I love (“love” is a deliberately chosen word here) reading music. I have a “practice partner” friend I meet with about once a month.

    We sit down with acoustic guitars and sight-read guitar duets. Not for performance but for the exhilaration of learning. And I (and he) find it really fun.

    The challenges of choosing positions, heightened listening, reading rhythms, etc. is exhilirating. There are loads of ways to enjoy the miracle of music. Reading duets with a friend is one way. It is all about the reward of mastering a written piece - usually a piece we’ve never heard.

    I’m not about telling people they should read music but I, and my friend, find this very rewarding. But I see this as a reward of reading music.

    I’m not saying anything new or novel here. Classical guitarists and others know this. And there are great duets free, everywhere. I’m just adding another idea to this conversation.
    You got to hack through it to the point where it becomes fun. Glad I persisted with it.

  28. #127

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    Reading music has nothing directly to do with one’s ability to play jazz.

    OTOH it can get you on the bandstand. And you need to be on the bandstand to learn how to play jazz.

    Or you could develop an absolutely amazing ear and only need to hear something once to play it perfectly.

    Most people find it easier to learn to read.
    But how do you develop such an ear ;p? Is it only something you can get if you start really young? Or is there hope for a 24 y/o? Should I slow down records and learn from them? Should I do solfege?

  29. #128

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lark View Post
    But how do you develop such an ear ;p? Is it only something you can get if you start really young? Or is there hope for a 24 y/o? Should I slow down records and learn from them? Should I do solfege?
    I think the best way might be a formal ear training course. In person, at a conservatory might be optimal, but also might not be available.

    I derived some benefit from use of Ear Master, which you can buy on-line, but I think an in-person course would have been better.

    Another approach would be lots of transcription -- which is the classic way. And, it also helps build vocabulary.

    I've never done solfege, but I can see the value.

    Probably, better to have started young, but it is absolutely possible to improve when you're older.

  30. #129

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lark View Post
    But how do you develop such an ear ;p? Is it only something you can get if you start really young? Or is there hope for a 24 y/o? Should I slow down records and learn from them? Should I do solfege?
    One can certainly improve one’s ear, and there are various ways of doing it.

    But what I am talking about is not recognising pitches by ear alone. It’s actually also musical recall and imagination. So, hearing a lengthy piece of music back accurately after one listening. I think that’s the hard bit.

    You can work on everything though. The human mind is an elastic thing. But most pro musicians use a mix of skills including reading.

  31. #130

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    The non-classical guitar is one of the most abused musical instruments in existence. Its popularity is simply that one can learn to play "songs" within a very short time period. The popular Music(CW/Rock/Blues, etc.) world is full of three-chord guitarists--some of whom have made millions of dollars with minimal "musical" ability/skill. However, a paycheck does not make a musician.
    In regards to what I call "ear musicians," the Jazz world began its ascent with many fine players who could not read music. However, these people were what I call "naturals"--born musicians with a native talent that superseded black dots on a page. One of the best examples is Louis Armstrong. However, as LA became popular, he went back to "school" to learn to read music so he could further his career and expand his opportunities to perform in more varied ensembles.
    So, the delusion persists that one does not need to learn to read music to be a great performer. And, this is still true with one caveat: you need to be one of the millions whose gifts are so abundant and talents so great that your savant-like abilities/talents prevail over everything else. Ergo, the abundance of "ear musicians" who play the electric guitar with mediocrity and little personal success.
    As a young person and multi-instrumentalist, I took lessons for a brief time until I felt(foolishly) that I could play and excel without formal training. And, I did up to a point until I had the opportunity to audition for one of the top R and B groups in the Midwest in their horn section. There were probably about 8-10 sax players in the room and the first thing they wanted you to do was improvise over a simple Blues progression. At the end, I was chosen and they asked me to go to the stage. In front of me on a music stand was their charts for the first show and with my very rudimentary reading skills, I couldn't cut the gig. They chose another player who got the job and left with them in two days on tour.
    After that experience, I began formal study with a classical teacher to enhance my reading skills and studied theory, arranging and improvisation as a non-degree student. It was the last job I ever lost.
    The point being ,for those who don't read or understand music formally, is that although you may still get where you want to go, it will take at least twice the amount of time, or more, to get there and you will always be burdened with your real life inadequacies. Django Reinhart, Errol Garner, Wes Montgomery,and Joe Pass were said not to be able to read music but how many of us have the gifts these musicians possessed who were innovators in Jazz? The odds are against you.
    Finally, the ability to read Music opens up doors/avenues of ideas, concepts and musicality/creativity that not only enrich your playing but help push your technique as higher levels of complexity are reached. And, you'll never be the odd man out in a gig where you're lost when the charts appear. Reading is a finishing school for serious musicians. There is no substitute. Good playing . . . Marinero

  32. #131

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    Well, TBF in jazz if you are an ear musician, you better have that down. Because there's nowhere to hide haha.

  33. #132

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    OTOH, whiel skill and craft always impresses musicians, what touches us in music isn't so easily quantifiable. Some of my favourite music has been made by limited musicians who are in touch with something special... And that's really subjective. One person's naive genius is someone else's talentless imposter.

  34. #133

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    That said most of us are going to fall into the artisan category, if anything.

    But there is an interesting question - does too much theory etc lead to cutting down creative avenues?

    This might make me unpopular here, but I kind of think it can. People can overthink things. A very knowledgable artist has to be careful to maintain an intuitive connection to their art. Nowhere is this truer than in improvisation.

    So while our knowledge of reading etc lands us the pro gig, we may go through life without ever playing anything truly of ourselves.

  35. #134

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    Distaff side: lots of theory can open doors. The more you know, the more you know. Theory also helps with composing and arranging, and understanding the written parts you might be playing in an ensemble situation. Practically speaking, however, a professional free-lance guitarist without reading ability is extraordinarily rare, since pure jazz work is extraordinarily rare. Solfege was presented to me by my very first guitar teacher and set up a foundation for a lifetime of work avoidance as a professional musician. 50 years later, I still enjoy getting calls to sight-read a guitar book behind a singer or in the pit, as long as I don't have to do that for more than a week or two. The key to effective reading is to sound like you're making it up, playing in a natural and musical way, and phrasing with the song and the rest of the band. This will often lead to unexpected pleasures, such as being appointed during rehearsal to step up to the front of the stage to accompany a singer with just the guitar, eschewing the arrangement, because one's playing is natural and musical. Reading well actually involves playing truly from your heart and soul, as any Segovia fan can attest to. It's not unlike reading poetry, in fact.

  36. #135

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    I have a long history of playing with musicians that can only use music notation to solve some musical problems, but are nowhere close to being able to sight read, and are mostly dependent on their ear and maybe chord charts or the Nashville number system. Many of these folks are great musicians and performers, it's just that their genres of music don't really rely on notation as a main tool for preparing or performing.

    We're guitarists and we know that when you move away from jazz, or playing in pits, etc., you start to encounter a different world of music that is so far away from reading notation that it's totally dependant on your ear and your feel, and it's an absolutely valid direction.

    Plenty of guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard just tearing it up by ear in the blues, country/americana, rock, r&b, funk...

    I'm all for reading because it has it's opportunities and advantages for the agenda I pursue, but back in the day I was also playing with guys that were doing Steely Dan tunes by ear, long before I could read, or before the internet.

  37. #136

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    Quote Originally Posted by cosmic gumbo View Post
    I have a long history of playing with musicians that can only use music notation to solve some musical problems, but are nowhere close to being able to sight read, and are mostly dependent on their ear and maybe chord charts or the Nashville number system. Many of these folks are great musicians and performers, it's just that their genres of music don't really rely on notation as a main tool for preparing or performing.

    We're guitarists and we know that when you move away from jazz, or playing in pits, etc., you start to encounter a different world of music that is so far away from reading notation that it's totally dependant on your ear and your feel, and it's an absolutely valid direction.

    Plenty of guitar, bass, drums, and keyboard just tearing it up by ear in the blues, country/americana, rock, r&b, funk...

    I'm all for reading because it has it's opportunities and advantages for the agenda I pursue, but back in the day I was also playing with guys that were doing Steely Dan tunes by ear, long before I could read, or before the internet.
    I would describe myself as an ear player (who knows a lot of theory and who can read a bit.)

    Any good jazz musician I’ve met has spent hours and hours working stuff out by ear. I see it as not fundamentally different to blues, rock, country etc, esp if you start with older styles.

    Reading is useful for paying the rent and getting you on the bandstand with good players (it’s a ‘buy in’ for a guitar player.) Outside of this, it’s not a core skill for a jazz musician. It just so happens jazz guitarists are usually formally trained by players who operate in the jobbing pro music world.

    Not all of them though.

  38. #137

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    "But there is an interesting question - does too much theory etc lead to cutting down creative avenues?" Christianm77

    Hi, C,
    Yes, an interesting question and "no" as an answer. Theory is similar to a carpenter having the ability to construct a proper roof joist--not the ability to design the house. It is one of the tools we use to enhance our bag of skills/concepts/foundation. The creative avenues are best enhanced by what I term "doodling"--introspective, visceral playtime where we put the music away and play with ideas and improvisations by ear. This, for me, is one of the most important aspects of musical growth and takes a seemingly inordinate amount of time and patience. I usually do this in the evenings after I've finished my musical workload where my mind has time to wander. I always use a notebook to write down my ideas since it is amazing how temporal these meanderings become as you wade through different waters.
    Finally, I do believe some musicians are not capable of creative musical dialogue and I see this largely among many Classical guitarists who have never wandered off the page in their musical training and focus more on technique and speed at the expense of interpretation and rubato. This is, of course, is not true for the best of them: Roland Dyens, Pavel Steidl, Edson Lopes, Ricardo Gallen, Fabio Zanon, Marcin Dylla, to name a few. For the record, I am a hybrid player and play both Classical and Jazz guitar. Good playing . . . Marinero



    Last edited by Marinero; 10-22-2019 at 12:07 PM. Reason: spelling

  39. #138

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    If you think the question can be answered that definitely and simply, you can’t honestly think it’s a very interesting question!

    But I think it can’t be, and it is, and it bothers players who’ve sunk a lot of time into knowledge that this might be the case esp when it is such a common talking point for idiots.

    The ‘forgetting that shit and just playing’ side of the coin is not as simple as it sounds. At least from personal experience.

    I’ve worked with a lot of players over the years. Most have been to music school, but some of the most talented know nothing about theory....

    Anyway back to the OP, I’ve just dug our my old music in the course of moving house and I have had a hugely enjoyable time sight reading classical guitar stuff.... so here’s one reason - it gets fun.

  40. #139

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    "If you think the question can be answered that definitely and simply, you can’t honestly think it’s a very interesting question!" Christianm77

    Hi, C,
    It IS interesting to me since there are still many "players" today that believe competency can come from a completely organic approach devoid of any formal training and that if they seek formal knowledge it will in some way taint their "artistry/creativity." And for every one of these players who achieves excellence in this organic approach, there are millions still scraping mud from their shoes before they can enter the house of competence much as Sisyphus pushing his boulder up the mountain only to have it pushed down by the gods before he reaches the peak for his endless existence. I can only speak from my experience of performing with musicians for the last 50 years and the notion that increased knowledge(Theory) would detract from your creative development is patently absurd. What I have found, however, is that some musicians despite advanced training will never play creatively since it is not in their genes and some players with limited theory will be great players. There is only so much one can do with theory . . . the rest lies with the gods. Good playing . . . of course, creatively . . . Marinero

  41. #140

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    Quote Originally Posted by Marinero View Post
    "If you think the question can be answered that definitely and simply, you can’t honestly think it’s a very interesting question!" Christianm77

    Hi, C,
    It IS interesting to me since there are still many "players" today that believe competency can come from a completely organic approach devoid of any formal training and that if they seek formal knowledge it will in some way taint their "artistry/creativity."


    I know literally no-one who earns money by playing who thinks this way. 14 year olds perhaps. The occasional amateur (never encountered it in the jazz world at any level.)

    Do not mistake what I said for this position.

    That said the one thing (as I said above) all good musicians have in common is a detailed aural imagination. This is not airy fairy, this is concrete practice. That's why transcription or ear learning in the looser, more traditional sense is the cornerstone of every folk and popular music, including jazz.


    At the weekend workshops National Youth Jazz Orchestra where I am observing, for instance, the improvisation classes are based around ear learning. No charts. Transcribing tunes off the record. Sound first, theory after. It's remarkable how much more swinging everyone sounds compared to equivalent groups on charts. And then they go and read charts in the big band ensembles. Best of both worlds. They aren't necessarily the best young musicians out there, but they are young. Good information, early.

    If the tutors on my music education masters are anything to go by, classical music is waking up to the aural weakness of many of their conservatoire level students and eager to emulate a more ear based way of learning.

    Theory is the categorisation and abstraction of musical objects. I believe this to be inevitable for any musician, it's just that 'ear' players keep their labels private. For instance, I think it likely that Django knew the sound of a dim7 chord and its fingering, but didn't know the 'proper' word for it. AFIAK human beings simply don't learn any other way...

    So all musicians in this sense are theorists and all competent ones play by ear (so do the incompetent ones actually, they play exactly what they hear which is not a lot :-()... but, OTOH, being too 'governed' by theory can hold you back. I find this all the time for myself. Perhaps it is not a problem for you so much...

    And for every one of these players who achieves excellence in this organic approach, there are millions still scraping mud from their shoes before they can enter the house of competence much as Sisyphus pushing his boulder up the mountain only to have it pushed down by the gods before he reaches the peak for his endless existence. I can only speak from my experience of performing with musicians for the last 50 years and the notion that increased knowledge(Theory) would detract from your creative development is patently absurd. What I have found, however, is that some musicians despite advanced training will never play creatively since it is not in their genes and some players with limited theory will be great players. There is only so much one can do with theory . . . the rest lies with the gods. Good playing . . . of course, creatively . . . Marinero


    'Lies with the gods? I have to disagree with this, not because I have terribly good evidence (the opposite in fact), but because I am an educator, and for me to say that would be an unforgivable breach of professional ethics and a massive cop out in my opinion. This is my moral purpose, and why I get money for it. I don't get paid to teach talented students. They teach themselves, and me half of the time....

    (I know someone who was Jacob Colliers teacher. Notice, they don't say they taught Jacob Collier.)

    What I want to do all the time is drill down into what the 'naturals' do that is .. well... natural for them. Sometimes it's very fundamental stuff, you just notice someone is musical by the way they play 4 E's in a row in a beginner guitar book page 1...

    Calling it talent.... Yes. BUT - also no, that's not satisfying to me. What are they doing that is better? Usually things like playing in time, listening to their own sound, imagining what it sounds like before they play it, developing feedback loops between touch and sound.... If you can help a student with this stuff they can become better musicians long run. And sometimes your talented student will hit a bump in difficulty and lose interest...

    Beyond the pleasure of learning, you may be doing music a favour by encouraging the less naturally talented grafter who loves music, is determined to improve and might end up being a much better player in the long run. And then everyone sees the result of their 10,000 hours and raves about how talented they are. (In fact I believe that guitar really almost uniquely rewards that kind of dogged bloody mindedness. Pianists can't in general be arsed with mapping it... Even Collier kind of fakes it haha.)

    The other reason, of course, is being a great player is a target that is always receding... Even I gather, for those we regard as great.
    Last edited by christianm77; 10-23-2019 at 05:15 PM.

  42. #141

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    Theory is collection of common musical patterns in a given style. There are 3 levels of theory in my opinion:

    1- Textbook material. Easiest part of the puzzle. Most applicable stuff can be learned in a short amount of time and it's actually fun to learn them for most musicians.

    2- Internalizing how theory maps on your instrument. This takes years. This is also what distinguishes between a typical Jazz guitarist and guitarist of other styles. The difference between points 1 and 2 is, for example, the knowledge of what the altered notes of a dominant chord are vs ability to instantly access those notes anywhere on the fretboard during improvisation.

    3- Ability to aurally recognize and distinguish between these musical patterns as well as ability to express them or respond to them on your instrument.

    3 is really the point. Can one reach 3 without going through 1 and 2, probably. Certainly in simpler forms of music. 1 and 2 are well tested paths. One would think they would get you there faster than other alternatives. But who knows.

    Ability to perceive nuances is a core skill for an artist. Of course whether those nuances are visual or aural or verbal etc. depends on the art form. Theory helps in developing appreciation for nuances.

  43. #142

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tal_175 View Post
    Theory is collection of common musical patterns in a given style. There are 3 levels of theory in my opinion:

    1- Textbook material. Easiest part of the puzzle. Most applicable stuff can be learned in a short amount of time and it's actually fun to learn them for most musicians.

    2- Internalizing how theory maps on your instrument. This takes years. This is also what distinguishes between a typical Jazz guitarist and guitarist of other styles. The difference between points 1 and 2 is, for example, the knowledge of what the altered notes of a dominant chord are vs ability to instantly access those notes anywhere on the fretboard during improvisation.

    3- Ability to aurally recognize and distinguish between these musical patterns as well as ability to express them or respond to them on your instrument.

    3 is really the point. Can one reach 3 without going through 1 and 2, probably. Certainly in simpler forms of music. 1 and 2 are well tested paths. One would think they would get you there faster than other alternatives. But who knows.

    Ability to perceive nuances is a core skill for an artist. Of course whether those nuances are visual or aural or verbal etc. depends on the art form. Theory helps in developing appreciation for nuances.
    God theory is such a shit word isn’t it?

    Theory is what you do on a University Music degree. It always seems to me jazz musicians are interested in practice. It just so happens you need names for things.

    It’s not patterns exactly. It’s abstracting a concept.

    For instance to take the hackneyed example of CST, a Cmaj7#11 chord doesn’t really sound like D/C, but we recognise them as akin through the abstraction of chord scale relationships.

    Each abstraction/simplification is like a small, limited window through which we observe bits of the crazy chimeric animal that we call music. Through one window we see tusks, through another feathers. So we mistake what it has in common with an ostrich or an elephant for the whole thing...

    The more windows we have, the better perhaps, but the metaphor is going a bit Jimmy Webb circa 1967 and the thought is kind of half formed anyway... hard to talk about these things.

  44. #143

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    I wonder if something was lost when notation went from this:

    Why Learn Standard Notation?-bachinset1-jpg

    to this:

    Why Learn Standard Notation?-s1-jpg
    "Bent my ear to hear the tune and closed my eyes to see."

  45. #144

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    The frequent posts considering the value of theory have always triggered some discomfort. I think maybe I have finally put my finger on what bothers me about it.

    It isn't the role of theory. Great players deal with that in different ways. Some could write a book on it off the top of their heads. Some don't relate to it in that way. However you choose to do it, there's a great player who did it some other way.

    What bothers me, and not just about theory, is a certain kind of doctrinaire approach. That is, that some things are "right" and others are "wrong".

    An example: one player I know has complained,to the point of being insulting, when I interpreted a melody. His position is that respecting the composer is paramount and that means playing the melody as written. Two weeks ago, I heard Robert Glasper at the Blue Note play a barely recognizable version of Stella. I don't think it was disrespectful. Anecdotes don't prove anything, but there seems to be something about the human spirit which leads some people to adopt a viewpoint with limited flexibiilty.

    Some players counsel learning copious amounts of theory and question whether anybody can play well without it. Obviously, some can. Comments are made that those players are using theory but in some kind of non-linguistic way. Could be, but even if so, they aren't following the theoreticians' usual advice.

    I've heard lots of students (and even pros) play very polite versions of Real Book tunes -- head, solos, head, outro, with limited variation from that format. But, as Reg recently pointed out, playing jazz is about variation/creativity on the fly. I think jazz only gets good when things are being cooked up by the group. Not just the notes of the solo, but every aspect of the music.

  46. #145

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    Quote Originally Posted by christianm77 View Post
    It’s not patterns exactly. It’s abstracting a concept.
    Sure, definitely they are abstractions. Abstractions of recurring instances of ideas. That's what I meant when I said pattern. Patterns across the repertoire of an era/style. One off compositional ideas don't make it to the theory books. They are called "creativity". When other composers/song writers/improvisors steal that idea, it becomes theory.

  47. #146

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    "beyond the pleasure of learning, you may be doing music a favour by encouraging the less naturally talented grafter who loves music, is determined to improve and might end up being a much better player in the long run. And then everyone sees the result of their 10,000 hours and raves about how talented they are. (In fact I believe that guitar really almost uniquely rewards that kind of dogged bloody mindedness. Pianists can't in general be arsed with mapping it... Even Collier kind of fakes it haha.)" Christianm77

    Hi, C,
    I agree with much of your previous comments but in the case of the less gifted 10K hour musician, I believe the most you can hope for is a functional craftsman and never an artist. The artist, in my opinion, is a human who has been gifted with exceptional musical instincts that are innate(genetic) and not learned through instruction although they are certainly groomed and enhanced over the years. I have seen this first-hand with many college-trained section players I worked with for years that could always cut the charts but rarely could improvise and usually needed direction with dynamics interpretation in relation to the score. My belief is that many music educators/programs are producing functional robots but very few artists and when you meet these fortunate souls(artists), you recognize them immediately. However, perhaps we shouldn't be too harsh on ourselves since how many 350. pct hitters are playing today in baseball? Good playing . . . Marinero